Late monumental peasant figures
In this atmosphere Bruegel reached the height of his career as a painter. Two years before his death, the Eighty Years’ War began between the United Provinces and Spain. Although Bruegel did not live to see it, seven provinces became independent and formed the Dutch Republic, while the other ten remained under Habsburg control at the end of the war. 
Besides making these gluttonous and volatile figures worthy of artistic representation, Bruegel‘s decision to focus on scenes and aspects of peasant life also drew attention to the lot of the working man and woman for perhaps the first time in art history. The same motive would become more conspicuous in the work of modern artists inspired by his example, including painters of the French Realist school such as Gustave Courbet and HonorГ© Daumier, who used their paintings to make politically subversive statements on the living and working conditions of the poor.
This work has been the subject of much moral speculation, revolving especially around the various figures who remain ignorant of Icarus’s plight, only the shepherd glancing up towards the sky, and not even towards the relevant spot. The displacement of Icarus from center-stage has been interpreted as a directive to remain focused on one’s own daily life. William Dello Russo has even suggested that the painting may illustrate a well-known Netherlandish expression, “one does not stay the plow for one who is dying.” Landscape with the Fall of Icarus was given its most famous twentieth-century treatment by the poet W.H. Auden, whose poem MusГ©e des Beaux Arts (1938) considers how suffering and personal drama take place in a wider context of ongoing life.
The Triumph Of Death depicts a battle-stricken landscape, showcasing Bruegel’s incredibly complex style. Spend some time looking at it to really comprehend the symbolism behind it. Have you noticed that one of the two armies fighting against each other is composed entirely out of skeletons? The painting itself also features objects and activities that are intended to depict daily life in the 16th century, but an odd twist of fate has this otherwise tranquil landscape become a scene of chaos as skeletons seem to takeover the village. You can admire this artwork in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where it has been since 1827.
As the mythological tale goes, Icarus and his father Daedalus planned to flee Crete, and in order to escape, they formulated a plan that involved constructing homemade wings out of feathers and wax. Yet Daedalus warns Icarus that the wings he created are not durable if he flies too close to the sun. Ignoring his father’s words, Icarus does, indeed, end up in danger as his wings quickly begin to melt away, sending him plummeting into the sea below.
He was a formative influence on Dutch Golden Age painting and later painting in general in his innovative choices of subject matter, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the natural subject matter of painting. He also painted no portraits, the other mainstay of Netherlandish art. After his training and travels to Italy, he returned in 1555 to settle in Antwerp, where he worked mainly as a prolific designer of prints for the leading publisher of the day. Only towards the end of the decade did he switch to make painting his main medium, and all his famous paintings come from the following period of little more than a decade before his early death, when he was probably in his early forties, and at the height of his powers.
Pieter Brueghel the Elder was an innovative Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker, known for his sweeping landscapes and peasant scenes. He was apprenticed early in his life to painter Pieter Croecke van Aelst, and in 1551 around the age of 26 he as accepted into a painter’s guild in Antwerp as a master painter.
There is but little information about his life. According to Carel van Mander’s Het Schilderboeck (Book of Painters), published in Amsterdam in 1604 (35 years after Bruegel’s death), Bruegel was apprenticed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst, a leading Antwerp artist who had located in Brussels. The head of a large workshop, Coecke was a sculptor, architect, and designer of tapestry and stained glass who had traveled in Italy and in Turkey. Although Bruegel’s earliest surviving works show no stylistic dependence on Coecke’s Italianate art, connections with Coecke’s compositions can be detected in later years, particularly after 1563, when Bruegel married Coecke’s daughter Mayken. In any case, the apprenticeship with Coecke represented an early contact with a humanistic milieu. Through Coecke, Bruegel became linked indirectly to another tradition as well. Coecke’s wife, Maria Verhulst Bessemers, was a painter known for her work in watercolour or tempera, a suspension of pigments in egg yolk or a glutinous substance, on linen. The technique was widely practiced in her hometown of Mechelen (Malines) and was later employed by Bruegel. It is also in the works of Mechelen’s artists that allegorical and peasant thematic material first appear. These subjects, unusual in Antwerp, were later treated by Bruegel. In 1551 or 1552 Bruegel set off on the customary northern artist’s journey to Italy, probably by way of France. From several extant paintings, drawings, and etchings, it can be deduced that he traveled beyond Naples to Sicily, possibly as far as Palermo, and that in 1553 he lived for some time in Rome, where he worked with a celebrated miniaturist, Giulio Clovio, an artist greatly influenced by Michelangelo and later a patron of the young El Greco. The inventory of Clovio’s estate shows that he owned a number of paintings and drawings by Bruegel as well as a miniature done by the two artists in collaboration. It was in Rome in 1553 that Bruegel produced his earliest signed and dated painting, Landscape with Christ and the Apostles at the Sea of Tiberias. The holy figures in this painting were probably done by Maarten de Vos, a painter from Antwerp then working in Italy.
The double interest in landscape and in subjects requiring the representation of human figures also informed, often jointly, the paintings that Bruegel produced in increasing numbers after his return from Italy. All of his paintings, even those in which the landscape appears as the dominant feature, have some narrative content. Conversely, in those that are primarily narrative, the landscape setting often carries part of the meaning. Dated paintings have survived from each year of the period except 1558 and 1561. Within this decade falls Bruegel’s marriage to Mayken Coecke in the Church of Notre-Dame de la Chapelle in Brussels in 1563 and his move to that city, in which Mayken and her mother were living. His residence recently was restored and turned into a Bruegel museum. There is, however, some doubt as to the correctness of the identification.